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For the love of soccer

For the love of soccer
Global reach, peak physical fitness, pots of money, international recognition and a massive fan following across the world as compared to any other sports, football is arguably the most popular sport on the planet. And Indian youth <g data-gr-id="151">are</g> not immune to its roguish charms. Football has become one of the most popular games in India following the auspicious debut of the ISL. And the recent success of the Indian Super League has changed the perception of the people who were shying away from associating themselves with football.

There are number of football clubs and academies which have mushroomed in the Delhi-NCR, What’s more is the demand for these academies that the neighbouring states youth come to enroll themselves to get exposure on the football field. However, some experts believe that though a huge amount of money has been pumped into this game, ironically the quality of the local leagues and clubs has been declining day by day. These experts believe that a silent majority of the football players are coming here for the sake of fitness not for representing the club or the country. Also, poor planning and the management’s lack of vision has severely damaged this game not only in Delhi but also across the nation.

Football is being considered a game of the poor and is often associated with slum children. In recent <g data-gr-id="119">time</g> however, this trend has changed and children from <g data-gr-id="201">upper</g> class, business families are also keen to enroll their kids with  football academies and clubs in the national Capital.

“We are running an academy in Yamuna Sports Complex and around 80 <g data-gr-id="107">per cent</g> of children who are being trained in our academy are from business or <g data-gr-id="127">high income</g> group families. <g data-gr-id="125">However</g> <g data-gr-id="124">majority</g> of them joined the academy for the sake of fitness and consider it as an extra-curricular activity. 

<g data-gr-id="122">Unfortunately</g> they are lacking the passion to represent the country, state or club. They say that after completing the study they will take care of their family business or go for higher education, and football remains secondary for them,” said <g data-gr-id="111">Bhupender</g> Thakur, head coach at Yamuna sports complex.

Contradicting the coaches pessimism is Vinayak Raturi, a student at Vanasthali Public School Vaishali, who joined a football academy in sector 3 Vasundra, Ghaziabad said: “I am a fan of Messi and <g data-gr-id="156">Nymar</g>, I want to be like them. I like English Premier League and football is my passion. I want to just play and want to be like them.” His father, Yogeshewer Prasad, who is an employee of AIIMS said: “We are an upper middle class family and I will promote my son to peruse football as a career option. I want him to be a part of Indian national team and ISL”.

Ravinder Singh Rana, coach, Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, IIT Delhi, Garhwal Heroes Football Club said:“football is no more a game which is being associated with slum or lower <g data-gr-id="134">middle class</g> children, now <g data-gr-id="135">upper class</g> families children are also coming to play football in academies, however soon after they reach <g data-gr-id="109">at </g>the age of 16-17 a majority of them leave for the sake of higher education or for any other career options.”

Ayush Adhikari, is one such teenager, who is just 15 and has been playing football at Delhi NCR since his childhood, Ayush has now got selected to go to Germany for six years for football training. Ayush, who has been representing Delhi state national football team for last three years, got his training at Yamuna sports complex, and will leave for Germany for ordination programme on 20 August.

“Delhi had decent football following. Clubs like Young Men Sporting Club, City Club, Indian National, New Delhi Heroes, Mughals and <g data-gr-id="129">Shashtri</g> had a strong fan base. But over time, a lack of organisation and poor planning meant football slowly faded into oblivion,” said former Shastri club football goalkeeper Rajender Singh Negi.

“Most parents are positive about the game, traditionally, parents in Delhi have talked their children out of careers in football because there was no career path. Delhi does not even have an I-League team. But as the ISL has a team known as Delhi Dynamos, things seem to be slowly changing and the parents are encouraging their kids to take up football,” said Negi. Meanwhile the trend of opting football as a career has been at the forefront of the efforts of FIFA and All India football federation, who are working together to promote football in the mainstream in India.

“No doubt corporate culture has emerged in Indian football and Delhi-NCR is not <g data-gr-id="154">a exception</g> of it, but we are not getting the potential footballers. The standard of the game has gone down drastically. The Santosh Trophy I-League has lost <g data-gr-id="153">its</g> significant. Local clubs and leagues are fighting for their survivals. Even in all leagues foreigners are getting exposure and money and our football has been going down. We need to take some concrete steps to revive grass root football,” said former Indian football team forward Bhupinder Thakur a member of SAF games gold medal winning team in 1993.

Meanwhile, there are several schools and academicians in Delhi NCR which have been promoting football. FCBEscola is the official football school of the top European Club, FC Barcelona is one such school. The school operates with an intensive programme that runs year round, in which the players train twice a week and play matches once every week. The FCBEscola is open for players from age 6-17.

Once a player is selected to the said school, he goes through a continuous development program under the watchful eyes of official coaches.

“We are having around 600 children in our facilities to develop the grass root talent here in <g data-gr-id="149">national</g> capital. Football as a game has a world reach and irrespective of country, culture, and region football is the most successful game of the globe. People are crazy about it, now time has changed in India too, parents supports their children to be a part of it,” said <g data-gr-id="148">Dhurva</g> Arora, manager of FCBEscola is the official football school of the top European club, FC Barcelona.

“The ISL has increased my enthusiasm as a parent; I see it as a very big platform. Tournaments like ISL are helping our kids get more active. They want to play more and more football. I would love him to make a career in football,” says Ashok Ghildiyal, who has taken time off from his busy schedule to watch his son practice.

“India is a country with one of the youngest populations in the world. A vibrant sporting culture and enthusiasm for sports <g data-gr-id="238">is therefore</g> an obvious corollary to it. It is our endeavor to harness this strength by channelising the interest of the country’s youth towards football. We believe that Indian football too has the potential to make a mark on the global football map. However, at the core of this goal is the need to identify the right talent and nurture them well,” said <g data-gr-id="237">Dhurve</g>.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter once called India the ‘sleeping giant’ of football. With the world’s second largest population, many feel India is under-represented in the world’s most popular sport. For One Square Mile, Tim Samuels set out to see if India can ever learn to play and love the beautiful game.
Delhi has hosted prestigious tournaments such as the Durand Cup, Nehru Cup, South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, but has struggled to produce top quality players or a top football club. Currently, there are no clubs from Delhi in the I-league. But suddenly, the energy and verve for football can be seen on the playgrounds and maidans of Delhi. There is enthusiasm among the locals and the kids. We are lacking somewhere it seems that there is lack of information and dedication which has been restricted the scope of football in Delhi NCR.

“The entire process of football development is a long one and should be looked upon as one that will happen in the next 15 or 20 years. If the youth grow up playing alongside players who are regularly participating in major tournaments and also with facilities that will come up, we will have our own Maradona or Messi in the next 15 or 20 years. These youngsters have no facilities and guidance currently.

But if the transformation occurs, we may have our own crop of excellent youngsters who can bring glory to our country. Hope that junior world cup in Goa at 2017 will bring this change to our country football,” said Thakur.
Sunil Thapliyal

Sunil Thapliyal

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